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From Weave to Web: West African Textiles from the Collection of
Christopher D. Roy and Nora Leonard Roy

October 28 - December 16, 2009

Chief's Robe, Mossi group, Burkina Faso, ca. late 20th century, SLU 2007.61.34


Christopher D. Roy '70 is professor of art history and the Elizabeth M. Stanley Faculty Fellow of African Art at the University of Iowa. In 2007, he and his wife, Nora Leonard Roy '69, donated to St. Lawrence University 67 textiles they collected while conducting research in Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria.

Chris and Nora's gift became the impetus for a related project to create an online digital collection of the textiles for teaching and research—the first of its kind from the gallery's permanent collection. During 2008, Stanzi McGlynn '10 worked as a summer research fellow to help organize the database and prepare high-resolution digital image files. She also studied specific topics including kente cloth patterns from Ghana, Bògòlanfini mud cloth, Yoruba tie-dye indigo fabric and symbols used in adinkra cloth. The exhibition therefore includes a selection of textiles as well as multimedia digital projections that document the process of creating a Web-based resource. In addition, an exhibition checklist is available.

A project like this can only hint at the far-reaching importance of Christopher Roy's life work studying African art and collecting textiles in West Africa for the past 38 years.

Africans weave elaborate and beautiful textiles of cotton, wool, silk, raffia, and man-made fibers in spite of the import of cheap cloth from China, the United States, and elsewhere. Often, these are used for special occasions--funerals, initiations, marriages, and coming-of-age celebrations--and cannot be replaced by machine-made imitations. The result is that textile arts thrive in many parts of Africa, while other art forms have almost disappeared. Both men and women weave, men on narrow-band, horizontal warp, double-heddle looms, and women on wide-band, vertical warp, single-heddle looms.

The textile shown on the front of the card is a simple Mossi chief’s robe I bought in the 1970s at the market in Pouytenga, north of Koupéla in Burkina Faso. It is the sort of lovely, hand-spun, woven, embroidered robe a rural Mossi chief might wear, rather than the expensive, machine-embroidered cloth and robes worn by wealthy chiefs in big towns and cities. The designs are based on patterns that have been used for centuries by African embroiderers.

-Christopher D. Roy

Chris and Nora Roy are the uncle and aunt of Emily '12 and Katelin Roy '10. The exhibition and newly created digital collection were supported with funds from the Barnes Endowment and the Newell Center for Arts Technology. Special thanks to Obiora Udechukwu, Dana professor of fine arts, Djifa Kothor ‘10, and the African Student Union.


Personal Adinkra Cloth
A visual symbols exercise is available on the Gallery's page of Course-Related Projects.